In a battle of contrasting teams, a veteran group of amateur players from Pittsburgh’s Tartan Devils Oak Avalon battled back to net a late equalizer, then beat a Derby City Rovers FC 1-1 (4-3 on penalties), in the First Tound of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday night in Jeffersonville, Indiana, at the Woerle Sports Complex.
“It’s extremely special. These guys do this every day,” said the Tartan Devils’ Rich Heuler. “We all have jobs. Work 9 to 5. We don’t train that much at all, but to come out, and get a result like this, it’s something very special.”
With the win, the Tartan Devils Oak Avalon now advance to the Second Round, as they will host United Soccer League pro side, Louisville City FC at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, May 17.
“I’m glad it’s over, we kind of ran out of gas in that last 15 minute overtime period,” chuckled Andy Kalas, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon player/coach. “It was a helluva team win. I could not be prouder of this group of guys, to come back and tie it, and win it in PKs, and to be honest, I thought we had the better of the chances for much of the way.”
After surrendering a goal in the 12th minute, the Devils tilted the momentum in its favor as the match wore on, and finally capitalized with a dramatic, game-tying goal in the 89th minute on a header from Heuler, who redirected a Derek Mackenzie free kick.
“The last free kick, moments before, I was wide open on the last stick, and I knew that was my spot,” said Heuler, who Kalas brought on as a sub right after the second half started. “So, I was ready, lined up on the back stick. I was able to lose my defender, and it was a beautiful ball right on my head to the back stick. I was able to put it – upper 90, left side.”
The Rovers came out early in the game seizing possession, and really putting the Devils on their heels in the first 15 minutes of the match.
After a few dangerous balls into the box, and near misses in the opening 10 minutes, the Rovers cut through the Devils back line with a nice diagonal, cut-back pass from Cory Thomas who found Igor Ibrahimkavic with a through ball to the right side of the box. Getting behind the Devils defenders and with enough space, Ibrahimkavic sent a grass-cutting low shot just inside the left post to give the home side a 1-0 advantage.
Moments later, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon responded, pushing forward for a couple of solid opportunities. E.J. McCormick slid inside his defender on a ball played back to steal the ball to create a one-on-one chance against Rovers goalkeeper Wyatt Durbin, who came out to cut off the shot angle. McCormick’s shot would barely slide right past the post.
The Devils would keep biding time, staying back with solid defensive shape and started to disrupt the Rovers attack and limit chances. The younger side, with many players between ages 18 to 24, started to get frustrated with the Devils physical presence on every play – and started picking up fouls.
“That’s our team,” Heuler said. “It’s not the prettiest at times, but we started to connect. We get after every 50/50 ball, we’re going in one hundred percent.”
The Rovers had a few spells near the end of regulation and into extra time when they were sending in balls into the box with regularity, but after surrendering an early goal, the Tartan Devils back line held their ground.
“We have some pretty big guys back there,” Kalas said. “So we don’t mind them swinging it out wide and they want to serve it in. We’ll take our chances. We’ve got guys 6-2, 6-3 and we’re clearing the ball, our goalie was phenomenal and we’re a countering attacking team, so it worked to our advantage as the game wore on.”
Holding on to a one-goal lead, the Rovers nearly put the game away for good only moments before Heuler’s equalizer. Derby City’s Kenny Doublette cut back a pass to the center of the box for Dubai Tashiro, who chipped a shot over Zach Varga and into the back of the net. The goal was waved off, as the Rovers were offside.
As the game entered overtime, with heavy legs, both teams were picking their spots in creating chances, but the Rovers kept most of the possession, as Varga came up with a few big saves, and the Devils were heading balls back out of the box with regularity.
“They were really laying it on thick, and yeah, we had countless headers. But to be honest, that’s soccer. If you can defend well late in the game, then it’s good,” Kalas said.
After 120 minutes, the veteran group of Devils that includes many former college players from Pittsburgh area schools like Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris – relied on maturity and experience to get through the penalty kick rounds.
In the first two rounds of kicks, the teams were each stopped once by dazzling saves by Varga and Dublin, and it was 1-1. The next two kicks were converted for each team, setting up the stage for the fifth, and what would be the deciding round.
The Rovers sent Greg Fischer to beat Varga – but his shot banged off the bar.
This gave the Pittsburgh amateur club, which was formed only three years ago while sitting around at Pipers Pub, on the city’s South Side, a chance to advance.
Travis Mackenzie stepped up to take the clincher – and the former Chartiers Valley, Duquense University and Pittsburgh Riverhounds standout put it through.